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Why volunteer? The benefits of volunteering can last a lifetime—not only for those who you are helping, but for yourself as well.
If you are on the fence about diving into a new volunteer experience or have doubts about whether or not volunteering is right for you, you might find yourself surprised at just how much you can gain from taking the plunge.
Let’s learn more about the many benefits of volunteering and how to start getting involved!
What is Volunteering?
Volunteering means giving your time and abilities to aid others (usually a nonprofit organization) without the want of financial compensation. Put simply, volunteering is a service to your community.
Many nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers to accomplish day-to-day objectives and to reach long-term goals. Miles4Migrants, for instance, relied solely on volunteer hours for their first few years of operation. Most nonprofits would not be able to do the important work they do without the power of volunteer work.
Nothing gets done by one person alone, which means we have to band together to make the changes we want to see in the world. Volunteerism has indeed been the fuel to the fires of change both on international and local fronts. Volunteering your time, skills, and resources is one of the most powerful ways to make a difference, to help others, and as it turns out, to enhance your own wellbeing.
GET THE GUIDE: 15 UNEXPECTED WAYS TO VOLUNTEER!
15 things you can do (big and small) to start making a difference today.
7 Benefits of Volunteering
While you won’t get paid for your community service, volunteering comes with a lot of other benefits to boot. Donating your time, energy, and resources can be just as rewarding for you as for those you are helping. Here are some ways volunteering can affect you positively:
1. Meet New People and Build Community
Everyone loves new friends!
Being a part of a team with a common goal will help you form bonds that can be life-changing. Volunteering inherently means helping people, and that means you’ll be creating meaningful relationships with others and increasing your social interactions.
Volunteering provides a unique opportunity: it connects people with very specific shared values. And the values may not be what you think. In addition to likely having shared concerns for children, sustainable living, healthy eating, or whatever project you’re working on, volunteers are also people who also share things like a willingness to step outside their comfort zone, an openness to spending time on a community effort, a proclivity for engaging in team-oriented activities, and a desire to contribute to the well-being of others.
You’re sure to meet people and make new friends that share common interests, values, and outlooks. Building a community in which you are all working together towards common future goals will nurture your sense of belonging and purpose and expand your support system. This social benefit of volunteering grows into a bunch of other benefits that we’ll continue to explore in this list!
2. Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Ways of Life
Volunteering might take you to a new part of your community you have never been to before. Volunteer programs can give you the opportunity to bring people into your social network you otherwise wouldn’t get to meet and learn from those who come from different walks of life. This experience can expand your understanding of others who are different from you.
Learning about cultures and ways of life that are different from ones of your upbringing will increase your social flexibility and expand your world-view. It will also raise awareness of the issues that other people deal with and will increase important social skills like empathy and teamwork.
3. Gain a Sense of Purpose and Become Happier
What an amazing reason to do something! Who doesn’t want to become happier?! Volunteering has been shown to give you a sense of accomplishment and to increase feelings of happiness.
“How?”, you may ask?
Throughout your life you’ve developed social and professional skills that promote your personal achievement. Using those skills for a wider, communal impact can be even more fulfilling. Volunteering will enrich your life and give you a broader purpose and can give you a boost of motivation.
Researchers also posit that it’s the social connections you make while volunteering (as we’ve mentioned) that help increase your feelings of happiness.
Feeling like you are a purposeful role of your community will make you feel…da da dum…HAPPY! Volunteering is indeed a known mechanism to help fight all sorts of mental issues like depression, anxiety, stress, and anger.
Where do we sign up?!
4. Boost Your Self-Esteem
That’s right! Spending time as a volunteer has been shown to improve your self-esteem!
The more opportunities you take to learn new skills and gain knowledge, the more fully you will develop as a person. And what safer space to develop those skills than in a context of service?
Stepping out of your comfort zone and building new skills is the best way to develop your self-esteem. Volunteering will increase your sense of pride and thus, your self-confidence! When you challenge yourself through volunteering and receive appreciation from others, it can make you feel better emotionally and mentally.
Plus, who has time to think negative thoughts about yourself when you’re out saving the world?!
5. Advance Your Career by Improving Job Prospects
Volunteering will offer you skills that can be used throughout your career development. If you are wanting to change to a new career, especially a new environmental or social impact job, volunteering in that new field can help you develop the skills and knowledge you will need.
When you have a volunteering experience to add to your resume, you stand out over job candidates who don’t take the time to give back to society. Volunteering highlights your character, passion, and determination!
Through your volunteer experiences, you have a chance to show that you’re interested in things bigger than yourself, and you are willing to take action to make the changes you want in the world—and that will always help you shine through the competition.
Volunteering can also give you a better understanding of the issues you are working to solve, and so, you are more apt at discovering where there are gaps in the field. This knowledge can prepare you to enter a new field of work or, for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, volunteering may lead to developing your next business idea or inspire you to start a nonprofit yourself!
6. Accrue the Health Benefits of Volunteering
It’s true! There are many physical benefits that come from volunteering, including stress reduction!
Spending meaningful time with others can reduce stress and the health effects it has on our bodies. Reduced stress translates into several physical health benefits. You’ll sleep better, get sick less often, and even prevent heart disease! In fact, some studies have even found lower mortality rates in volunteers vs non-volunteers in older adults.
This makes sense because as we give our attention to others, we take our attention off of our own problems and concerns. It can also put our stresses into perspective and feel more gratitude in our day-to-day lives.
Volunteer work can also be an outlet for the frustrations you feel about certain issues and will leave you with a sense of agency and empowerment. Worried about climate change? Do something about it!
7. Increase Your Brain Functioning
Every volunteer opportunity has its own set of tasks, and some of those might require you to learn new skill sets and challenge yourself. This means you’ll be keeping your brain busy and limber!
Volunteering has been shown to increase your ability for problem solving, improve your long-term and short-term memory, and reduce your risk of developing age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. So time to get started!
The Good & Bad of Volunteering
- Meet new people and develop lasting relationships.
- Increase your happiness and better your mental health.
- Learn new skills and increase your brain function and self-esteem.
- Stand out on job applications and further your career.
- Decrease your stress and accrue the health benefits.
- Do good in the world and help make a difference.
- Can be time-consuming.
- Some tasks can be repetitive depending on the volunteer role.
- Might take multiple attempts to find the right fit for you.
Getting Started on Your Volunteer Journey
So you have made up your mind to volunteer—what now?
One of the many beauties of volunteering is that there are endless ways that you can get involved and make a difference. The thing is, you won’t know which is right for you until you get out into the community and start!
The key to accruing all the benefits of volunteering is to find something you really like in a community that you love. It is time to consider your options carefully so you can find an opportunity that will be realistic for you as well as fulfilling.
How to Start Your Research
There are tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations in the United States with volunteering opportunities ranging from health care and mental health, to sports, to politics, to childhood development. Here are some tips to start finding the right volunteer opportunity for you:
- Search online for organizations in your interest areas and see if they have a volunteer page on their website. Make sure to check out the organization’s FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page and follow-up with any additional questions or concerns before signing up to volunteer. Ask as many questions as you like of a nonprofit before you volunteer with them!
- Visit websites like VolunteerMatch or Idealist and see if posted volunteer opportunities might be right for you.
- Contact your local community centers, nonprofit organizations, senior centers, or libraries to find out if they are in need of volunteers. They usually are!
GET THE GUIDE: 15 UNEXPECTED WAYS TO VOLUNTEER!
15 things you can do (big and small) to start making a difference today.
What to Consider: Finding the Opportunity That is Right for You
It’s important to make sure you only volunteer in a capacity that you are comfortable with and that brings you joy. Here are some things to consider as you search for your next volunteer opportunity.
First and foremost, consider how much time you can give. There is no competition in volunteering (or at least, there shouldn’t be!). If you can only give an hour a month—great. That is an additional hour a month your community will benefit from that it otherwise wouldn’t!
When volunteering as a part of a team, you should make sure you can commit the time you are promising. If you are volunteering to do things like the online marketing for the nonprofit, that don’t require working directly with others, make sure you are upfront about your skill levels, abilities, and availability. These practices will ensure neither you or your team feel stretched too thin, which can result in burnout or failure.
Making reasonable schedules for yourself will help you settle in for the long-term. And being upfront about your time constraints will help you avoid disappointing anyone counting on you and your volunteer efforts.
Also, consider your physical capabilities. Do you have constraints that will make certain tasks difficult? Be honest with yourself about what you are comfortable with accomplishing. I have found that most nonprofit organizations are very happy to accommodate volunteers who have special requests and needs if you are upfront with them with them about your limitations.
Another thing to mull over is what kind of skills you already possess. What skills or experiences could be helpful to the nonprofit you are working with? If you’re in marketing, consider helping an organization develop their nonprofit marketing plan. If you know accounting, help them get their books in order. Organizations will LOVE getting this kind of expertise (that they would usually have to pay top dollar for).
Next, think about where your interests lie and what kind of field you would want to explore. Do you like working with animals? Want to learn more about farming and agriculture or how to compost? Do you enjoy playing with children? Spending time with the elderly? Do you want to learn how to help refugees?
Deciding what kind of organization you would like to work with first will help you bring enthusiasm and excitement to your volunteer experience. It is no good for anyone if you volunteer to do something you flat out don’t like doing.
Volunteer Abroad or in Your Own Community
Are you interested in working outside of your home country? Do you have the time and finances to travel? Would you rather stay close to home where you might not have to spend money to volunteer?
Consider, again, what might work best for you. Volunteering abroad tends to be expensive and time-consuming, which may or may not be something you are prepared to do. Plus there are many opportunities right in our own communities!
But if you want to do work to save the oceans for instance, and you live in the mountains of Colorado, your local community may not have the right opportunity for you. In that case, you will definitely want to search outside of your hometown.
If you are considering volunteering abroad, make sure that you work only with reputable organizations and that you can verify necessary information about what to expect before you leave home.
There are some amazing opportunities to combine your travel with volunteering. Companies like Have Fun Do Good provide the opportunity to do purposeful travel, arranging for your trip to be structured around a service project.
Learn more about how these travel experiences incorporate volunteer projects in our interview with the Founder of Have Fun Do Good, Adam Kunes!
Kind Traveler and Discover Corps also allow you to take your impact beyond your hometown. Or join the “give-back-packers” at Bamboo and take your impact across the world. Or, maybe you prefer saving sea turtles on a visit to Costa Rica? The possibilities are endless!
The Power of Giving Back
The reasons people volunteer are many and will vary person to person. What we do know is that when you find the right fit, you’ll enrich the lives of others, and your life will be made better by the experience!
We all contribute to the construction of the world we live in—don’t you want your contribution to be one that makes that world better? Working towards equality for everyone will make a better world for all of us!
Whether you are a high school student volunteering at the food bank, a parent selling girl scout cookies, or a senior volunteering at an animal shelter, when your efforts go towards making society better for all of us, we all feel better. It’s a win-win situation.
Good luck on your search for the right volunteer experience for you and let us know how your experience goes! Happy volunteering!
Grow Ensemble Contributor
Alma Rominger is an educator and farmer passionate about regenerative agriculture, composting, gardening for mental health, and outdoor education.
Alma believes that the health of the earth and the health of its people are intrinsically connected and has spent her entire career advocating for both. She currently specializes in Bokashi composting systems and soil ecology through her work with Compost Queens, a women-owned community composting company based in the San Antonio area.